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Drug Advertising Masquerades as Education

Feb. 13, 2002

Drug Advertising Masquerades as Education

FDA Should Increase Enforcement of Advertising Regulations, Dr. Sidney Wolfe Writes in The New England Journal of Medicine

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The ever-increasing direct-to-consumer promotion of prescription drugs misleads patients by masking emotional appeals as educational, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group wrote in an editorial to be published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

While the drug industry creates advertisements that appeal to consumers? emotions to increase sales, patients have dangerous misperceptions about the drugs in those promotions. Consumers tend to believe that advertised drugs are safer and more effective than they are in reality, and advertisements give little real information about the health conditions requiring treatment. Nor do consumers learn much about the duration of or alternatives to treatment, or the success rate of drugs.

Additionally, there has been a significant — almost 50 percent — decrease in the number of actions taken by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enforce prescription drug advertising regulations for doctors and patients alike over the past five years, which has allowed grossly misleading and manipulative information to pass as educational material, Wolfe wrote.

“Public Health Service agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the FDA, along with medical educators in schools and residency programs, must move much more forcefully to replace tainted drug company ?education? with scientifically based, useful information that will stimulate better conversations between doctors and patients and lead to true empowerment,” Wolfe wrote.

Click here to view Wolfe?s editorial.